Has the mafia's 'omerta' code of silence finally broken?

A guard on duty at an Italian prison

Information from mafia widow leads to arrest of 16 people for cocaine smuggling, kidnapping and forced slavery

LAST UPDATED AT 09:49 ON Fri 1 Aug 2014

The omerta, the Italian mafia's notoriously impenetrable code of silence, may have been broken after a sequence of arrests were made across Europe on the basis of information obtained from a mafia widow.

Agents arrested 16 suspected mafia clan members in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, who stand accused of smuggling cocaine across Europe, the BBC reports.

The suspects are said to belong to a clan based in Rosarno in the far south of Italy, which is home to the infamous 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

The BBC's Alan Johnston notes that the 'Ndrangheta is renowned for being almost entirely impenetrable due to its watertight code of silence that categorically prohibits members from cooperating with authorities.

According to reports, the woman who provided the information had been married to a member of the Cacciola mafia family, but in 2005 her husband committed suicide. Subsequently, she was forced to live with her mafiosi in-laws under near house arrest. According to the Italian newspaper Gazetta del Sud, the woman was "reduced to slavery after being held responsible by the clan for her husband's suicide".

The woman eventually managed to get a message out appealing for assistance, and was rescued in a police raid. She subsequently began to collaborate with authorities which led to the arrest of the 16 suspected 'Ndrangheta members. The group has now been charged with cocaine trafficking, kidnapping, and forced slavery.

In June, Pope Francis condemned the mafia's "adoration of evil," and pronounced that the Church would "exert its full force" to combat organised crime, Reuters reports.

"Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated," the Pope said in a mass in Calabria, southern Italy – an area known to be home to a number of major Mafia clans.

Several days later, a small Catholic diocese in southern Italy suspended all religious parades after a procession took a detour to salute a mafia boss held under house arrest, the BBC reports. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.